The Space Age Turns 50 - Ideas of Space Flight from the Early 20th Century

1950s Popular Culture: Books and Magazines

Probably the most significant nonfiction works to grab the public imagination concerning spaceflight and spacecraft were a series of books and Collier's magazine articles which appeared between 1949 and 1956.

The first was the magnificient Conquest of Space which was first published in 1949. It described the launching of satellites and people into space and gave a detailed description of a manned moon mission.
Each of the planets of the solar system were described with up-to-date knowledge of the time.


The text was written by Willy Ley and the paintings were by Chesley Bonestell. Several of Bonestell's illustations (particularly those of the lunar surface) were so detailed, that they were mistaken for photographs by some.

In addition to a number of reprints of Conquest of Space, three other books followed which were of similar content. In 1952, Across the Space Frontier was published. It contained articles by Wernher Von Braun, Willy Ley, and the noted astronomer Fred Whipple.
In 1953, Conquest of the Moon appeared. It contained ideas concerning travel to the moon - really, an expanded version of one of the chapters of Conquest of Space.
A more ambitious project was described in the 1956 Exploration of Mars, also by Willy Ley and Wernher Von Braun. The history of our knowledge of Mars was given, followed by a realistic description of a manned mission to Mars, again illustrated by Chesley Bonestell.

Also during the early 1950s, a series of 8 articles appeared in the widely circulated Collier's magazine. Most of these articles were either written by von Braun and Ley, or written in consultation with them. Part of the motivation for von Braun in undertaking these writing projects, was to generate public interest and excitement in space travel. Afterall, if space travel was to be funded by the government of the U.S., then there would have to be a high degree of public support. This motivation was clear in the editorial comment of the first issue of the series titled "Man Will Conquer Space Soon." This issue appeared March 22, 1952 and the editorial stated:
"What you will read is not science fiction. It is serious fact. Moreover, it is an urgent warning that the U.S. must immediately embark on a long-range development program to secure for the West space superiority. If we do not, somebody else will. That somebody else very probably would be the Soviet Union."

October 18, 1952

June 27, 1953
Seven more issues followed with space-related articles. Topics covered included "Man on the Moon" and a description of a proposal for the first man-made satellite, called the "baby space station."

March 14, 1953

April 30, 1954
Other issues dealt with space emergencies, and the final issue of April 30, 1954 dealt with Mars. As with the books on these topics, the articles were accompanied by illustrations by Chesley Bonestell.

Go to 1950s Popular Culture: TV section.